Sunday, 26 September 2021

Alcohol, crime, and long baseball games

There are a number of theories that link alcohol consumption with crime. One that I have relied on in much of my own research is called routine activity theory. This theory suggests that crime occurs when you have motivated offenders and attractive targets (or potential victims, in the case of inter-personal crime) in the same location, in the absence of capable guardians. Under this theory alcohol is a 'chemical facilitator' of crime, because it reduces the inhibitions of the offenders, and impairs the victims. Routine activity theory comes from human ecology, and there are lots of alternative theories from criminology that can be used to support the link from alcohol consumption to crime. However, they are just theories. The evidence to support them is almost entirely based on observational studies. There is precious little that demonstrates causation, rather than correlation, between alcohol consumption and crime.

A new article by Jonathan Klick and John MacDonald (both University of Pennsylvania), published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology (may be ungated, but just in case there is an earlier version here), does provide some causal evidence, using a cool identification strategy.

Klick and MacDonald look at crime occurring around Citizens Bank Park (CBP), the home stadium of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. At baseball games at CBP, alcohol sales are ceased after the seventh inning. From that point on, the baseball fans will become increasingly sober. The longer the baseball game goes on, the more sober they will become. Given that baseball is not a time-limited game, there is a lot of variation in the time between the seventh inning and when the game finishes and the fans spill out of the stadium (where, as routine activity theory suggests, problems may occur). Klick and MacDonald make use of that variation and look at how crime varies depending on the length of the baseball game. As they explain:

...we rely on a novel natural experiment to provide causal estimates of the impact of alcohol consumption during Major League Baseball (MLB) games on crime near a stadium... The game duration from the end of the seventh inning to the end of the game can be short or long... This aspect of MLB games allows us to examine a wide range of time spans during which spectators are limited in their ability to drink alcohol. Thus, we can compare game days with non-game days when the game is at home or away, and when the time from the end of the seventh inning extends allowing fans who are in attendance more time to sober up.

Using data from 2006 to 2015, they find that:

...home games that are relatively lengthy after the seventh inning and games with extra innings generate lower crime around CBP, as compared to other areas around the city. For the average game, it appears that the alcohol sales restriction reduces assaults by 40 to 70 percent. These effects are concentrated within the first hour after the game, with little additional crime reduction occurring after that, and in a relatively small area around CBP. We do not observe similar effects around a selection of popular sports bars in other areas of the city where no seventh inning restriction on alcohol sales applies.

The comparison with the areas around sports bars is an important one. Of course, sports bars do not have to cease alcohol sales at the seventh inning, so patrons leaving the bars will be more intoxicated than those leaving CBP. Also, there is a further natural experiment that Klick and MacDonald can exploit:

In March 2012, the Xfinity Live!... complex opened in the stadium parking lot. This entertainment venue contains several bars and restaurants that sell alcohol until 2 a.m. each evening, effectively undoing any potential effect of the alcohol sale stoppage in the stadium at the end of the seventh inning.

As expected, they find that:

These effects largely vanish after the Xfinity Live! complex opened and allowed fans to continue to drink alcohol after the seventh inning in the stadium parking lot, further suggesting the link between the stadium alcohol restrictions and crime is causal.

Klick and MacDonald test their analysis based on various geographies representing the size of the area of effect of stadium drinking, and find similar effects. While it might seem obvious that there is a causal link between alcohol consumption and crime, the actual empirical evidence to support that link is limited. This study goes some way to filling that research gap.

[HT: Marginal Revolution]

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